As many as 1 out of 5 American’s suffers from a mental disorder according to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA). For 5% of the population, the condition is severe enough to impact the daily life of the sufferer and require treatment. Many college students experience the symptoms of mental illness for the first time when they go away to school. The average age of onset for many mental conditions is 18-22 years of age and the stress of leaving home is often a trigger. You need to assess yourself and keep an eye on the people around you. This list can help you get started.
- Are you having trouble coping in general?
- Are you afraid or anxious most of the time?
- Is your condition impacting your social life?
- Have you considered hurting yourself or others?
- Have you ever had a blackout from drugs or alcohol?
- Are you severely under or overweight?
- Do your problems scare away friends?
- Have you lost your job because of how you feel?
- Does your condition effect your academics?
- Do you think you need help?
If you answered yes, or even maybe, to any of the questions above then you need to visit your student health center or obtain information from SAMHSA right away. You are not alone. Help is only a call, a text or a click away.
Anxiety is the most common mental disorder in the world. Everyone gets anxious before an exam or an important job interview. That is perfectly normal and can even sharpen your mind and enhance your performance. Sometimes your brain doesn’t stop with a healthy dose of anxiety and takes it too far. It becomes a disorder if it impacts your life in a negative way. Crippling, life-altering, anxiety comes in many forms:
GAD – Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a constant, severe feeling of overwhelming anxiety. People with a mild case of this often become much worse when they leave home for the first time to attend college. Without their normal support network and routines, life becomes unbearable.
PD – Panic Disorder is a sudden onset of debilitating anxiety symptoms. Sometimes these symptoms are so severe that patients think they are suffering from a life-threatening health emergency. This disorder is hard to miss and often easy to diagnose, unlike other anxiety disorders.
SAD – Social Anxiety Disorder is when normal everyday interactions like ordering in a restaurant or being called on in class create severe anxiety causing the sufferer to avoid social situations at all costs. College students need to be able to ask questions in class and order pizza so this can be a serious problem.
PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is considered by some psychiatrists to be an anxiety disorder. PTSD can happen to anyone who experiences or witnesses a traumatic event from a mugging to a bicycle accident. You don’t need to fight in a war to experience PTSD. Insomnia, flashbacks, panic attacks, and behavior changes are all symptoms of PTSD. If you think you might have it, get some help! Effective treatments are available and it is not an uncommon condition.
OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder also falls into the anxiety category according to many psychiatrists. Patients with OCD tend to exhibit repetitive behaviors and create habits that calm them down and help them get through the day. If you wash your hands fifty times a day, check your door locks a set number of times, or must have every item on your desk placed at right angles at all times then you might have OCD. Many people live their entire lives with a mild form of this disorder without treatment but a traumatic event can make it worse and cause small habits to become life-impacting problems.
As many as 1 out of 5 American’s suffers from a mental disorder according to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAHSA).
Most eating disorders are diagnosed in the teen years and college students arrive on campus already labeled as bulimic or anorexic or morbidly obese. In fact, many teens have already recovered from those problems and moved on with their lives. However, college life is really stressful. Your family support system is gone, you are usually eating in a new way and old problems have a way of resurfacing. In this situation, the best defense is an offense. Have a plan. Immediately establish yourself with a practitioner at the student health services office and find a support system. It can be a set of trusted friends who watch out for you, and organized support group, a mental health professional, or all three! Watch for triggers, learn your patterns and plan ahead. If you know that the stress of finals makes you not eat for a month come up with a proactive plan and execute it before you get into an unhealthy situation. To find resources about eating disorders in your area contact The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
15 million Americans a year struggle with depression. Symptoms range from mild to severe and may vary from person to person but if it impacts day-to-day life it needs to be treated. Symptoms often include withdrawing from normal activities, changes in appetite, mood swings, and a long-term negative outlook. Everyone has a down in the dumps day now and then, that is perfectly normal. Depression lasts for a long time and you can’t shake it off or simply push through it. It is an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that simply will not go away. The exception to this is the feeling of manic euphoria that some patients suffering from Bipolar disorder experience along with extreme bouts of deep depression. Luckily the treatments for all types of depression are very effective and should be readily available through your student health services. Treatments include medication, meditation, therapy, changes in diet and exercise, and in cases of Seasonal Effective Disorder, more light. To find treatment in your area click on the interactive map.
Nearly 100,000 students a year are sexually assaulted while under the influence of alcohol.
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol has played a major role in college life for a long time but not everything about party life is fun. Nearly 100,000 students a year are sexually assaulted while under the influence of alcohol and nearly 50% of students that drink engage in binge drinking. 25% of college students report academic consequences to their drinking and 1.5% of college students attempt suicide because of alcohol-related problems. Those numbers are alarming! Equally alarming is the number of students taking prescription pills on campuses these days. Abusing ADHD medication to focus and pain killers to relax is becoming more and more mainstream. From 1993 to 2005 opioid abuse increased on college campuses by 343%. Stimulant abuse increased by nearly 100% during that same time period. As usage increases so do addiction. If you or someone you know if abusing drugs or alcohol seek help. Our government provides a listing of resources available to help students fight addiction or seek information and resources in your local area.
Non-suicidal self-harm is an unhealthy way of coping with extreme emotions. For some people, cutting and other self-harming behaviors can provide a temporary feeling of relief followed by an overwhelming feeling of shame. These behaviors are often triggered by stress and leaving home is stressful. Self-injury is often associated with other mental disorders and can escalate, leading to infection and even accidental death. This is a poorly understood condition. The diagnosis is made on a physical and mental evaluation of the patient. No one knows why it starts and there is no magic pill that makes it go away but it is treatable. Contact your student health center or find a doctor near you if you ever want to hurt yourself.
What You Can Do
Mental illnesses, like most diseases, are easiest to treat in the early stages of the disease. If you feel that you have a problem seek help immediately through your campus health center or 911. Keep an eye on the people around you in your classes, dorms and social organizations. Without traditional family and community support to notice behavior changes, college students must rely on each other. If you see someone struggling, reach out, offer assistance. It is time to take the stigma away from mental illness and start talking about it openly and publicly. Since 24% of the population is suffering from some sort of mental health problem, then it is clearly an enormous public health concern. It is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about, it is simply a health concern that needs to be addressed just like any other problem. Several organizations have been founded to help you start the conversation with your peers to bring mental illness out into the open.